Sydney Bechet

Biography Sydney Bechet

Mezz Mezzrow
(November 9, 1899 – August 5, 1972) was born in Chicago to a poor Jewish immigrant family. As a juvenile delinquent, he was in and out of reformatory schools and prisons where he was exposed to jazz and blues music. He began to play the clarinet and decided to adopt the African American culture as his own. He became a ubiquitous figure on the Chicago jazz scene of the 1920’s and ran in the circles of musicians that included King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Jimmy Noone, Al Jolson, Baby Dodds, Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Bellson and many others. Mezz was an advocate for the pure New Orleans jazz style. Mezz became close friends with Louis Armstrong and later became his personal assistant. In the late thirties, Mezz moved to Harlem in New York City and married an African American woman. He continued to play and also organize recording sessions with many great artists. Mezz Mezzrow also became famous as a marijuana dealer and advocated for the use of the herb as a healthy alternative to alcohol and other drugs. His product was so well known in the jazz community that musicians called it “mezz”, “the mighty mezz” or “mezz-rolls”, as in marijuana cigarettes.

Above everything Mezz Mezzrow was an advocate for integration and equal rights at time well before the movement of the 1960’s. Eddie Condon said of Mezz Mezzrow: “When he fell through the Mason-Dixie line he just kept going". Mezz was the original hipster, slang master, jazz musician and bohemian spirit.

Although he was a decent clarinetist and saxophonist, Mezz Mezzrow is remembered today primarily for his autobiography "Really the Blues", and for rejecting White society and embracing African-American culture, to the extent that he actually believed that he was Black. In the 1920s he was part of the White Chicago jazz scene, played with the Austin High Gang and recorded with the Jungle Kings and the Chicago Rhythm Kings. In 1927 he moved to New York and played with Eddie Condon. In the 1930s he led a few swing-oriented dates with his integrated band The Disciples of Swing and recorded his signature tune Really The Blues with the Tommy Ladnier Orchestra. The French critic Hugues Panassie put together some sessions that featured Mezzrow and others. Mezzrow had his own King Jazz label during 1945-47. In 1948 Mezzrow moved to France where he recorded with Lee Collins and others.

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